Juvenile Eagle at Lock and Dam 13
Juvenile Eagle at Lock and Dam 13

Iowa (and Illinois) Part III
Eagles along the Mississippi, January 12-17, 2006
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The Mississippi River which forms the border between Iowa and Illinois was mostly free of ice during my eagle chasing trip this weekend. As a result, the eagles were widely dispersed and viewing conditions were much more difficult than the previous two years.

I arrived in the Quad Cities Thursday afternoon and had just enough time to check out Lock and Dam 14 on the Illinois side. I saw how the levee extending out to the dam would be a great location for photographing fishing action, if there were any. There was lots of open water and only a couple of very distant eagles.

Friday I got my first look at L&D 13 further north. I saw a couple of eagles on the road leading to the dam, but once again there was no fishing action below the dam. A left turn brings you to a paved parking lot and a nice viewing platform. (On cold days I could see ducking into the heated restroom to warm up.) If you turn right instead, there is an unpaved parking area and a levee which extends some distance into the lake behind the dam. There is an eagle's nest just before the fork in the road, so it might be interesting to swing by L&D 13 during the summer to see if there are any little eagles.

I headed south through Illinois and approached L&D 18 from the east. After the sight of 400 eagles swarming around a patch of open water in the ice-covered river in 2004 and 2005, it was a disappointment to see perhaps 30 eagles very widely dispersed along the open water. The opportunities for flight shots were few and far between, so I continued on to my stop for the next two nights, Keokuk, Iowa, and met up with my cohort Craig.

Eagle in Keokuk
Eagle in Keokuk

We followed the familiar tour route of the Keokuk waterfront below L&D 19, Fort Madison for "Eagle on a Stick" opportunities (eagles sitting on snags just off shore), and L&D 18. The best photo ops were at the Keokuk waterfront. Although the birds were as widely dispersed as elsewhere, some of them came to the conveniently-located trees that also provided photo ops in years past.

Sunday we worked our way northward from Keokuk to the Quad Cities, seeing the occasional bird along the way. Credit Island in Davenport turned out to be a reliable spot, with views of roosting birds to the west and north. There also was the opportunity to see the distinctive black squirrels which inhabit the island.

Monday we swung up to L&D 13 on the Illinois side, getting a good shot of a juvenile on the access road. Although the water below the dam was open, ice was forming above the dam. Through binoculars I could see a clump of 10 eagles on the ice, and perhaps another 10 scattered around. Returning on the Iowa side, we stopped at Eagle Point Park in Clinton which has holiday lighting displays and eagle carvings. Back in Davenport, we made another stop at Credit Island before going our separate ways.

The most eagles I saw at any one time was about 35, and that was through 18x binoculars scanning a large area. As I said, there were days the previous two years when there were 400 at L&D 18. When I went to northwest Missouri in search of eagles in December, I thought it was just a warmup for the Mississippi River trip. It turns out the preseason game was more interesting than the regular season tilt.

So the trip was sort of a disappointment. On the other hand, if this had been my first eagling attempt, I probably would have considered seeing 35 eagles in one binocular sweep to be a great success. I'm sure I'll try again.

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Photos ©1998- by Thomas O'Neil